The Sorority Body Image project is a program and study that has been highly successful since its conception 13 years ago. The program has thrived so much that it is being used as the model for other colleges and will be expanded on Trinity’s campus for non-sorority members.
The project stresses the importance of a healthy body image and lifestyle in a culture that imposes impossible beauty standards on women. The project is supervised by Carolyn Becker, professor of psychology, and is completely staffed by sorority members.
“We run the Sorority Body Project as a program and a study. In the body project, participants are given multiple opportunities to voluntarily speak and act against the thin ideal standard of female beauty.It is a true collaborative process between me and the sororities,” Becker said.
According to the Trinity website, Becker is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment and prevention of eating disorders and the use of exposure therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.
The first study, which was conducted in 2000 with Trinity sororities, replicated the results of a cognitive dissonance approach to reducing body image concerns of a study that was done by Eric Stice.
“We ran the first study, and, much to my surprise, we replicated Dr. Stice’s findings,” Becker said.
After the initial study, the program gained attention and grew in the sorority community. Other colleges across the country model the Trinity program and study.
“It all started here at Trinity. We were the first ones to do it and now it is spreading to other campuses. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a very broad program and it is all modeled by what we did here. We led the way. Our students did that,” Becker said.
The project is recognized worldwide and the studies conducted were published in many psychology journals. 11 students who were a part of the program over the years helped co-author papers that were published by peer- reviewed journals including the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the number one journal in the clinical psychology field.
“The Trinity sororities are now internationally known for being the first organization to deploy and sustain an evidence-based eating disorders program,” said Lisa Kilpela, a postdoctoral candidate working with Becker on the body image project.
The program will expand to the general Trinity population later this year for the first time.
“We are actually doing an expansion that we hope will be launching this winter. We invite all interested students to go ahead and contact us. We are also going to expand coed as well so that male students who also want to be involved can be involved. Up until now, we have not had the supervisory bandwidth to do this,” Becker said.
“We are now this year launching a new body project into the general population, so now it will be open for anybody to participate,” Kilpela said.
The program takes preventative measures for eating disorders and redefines body image for young women. All new sorority members are required to go through the program.
“I had never thought about a lot of the things brought up in the discussions. It really does make you think and realize there are so many unconscious thoughts and decisions that we make about body image daily. A lot of the exercises in the program counteract those and make you appreciate things about your body that you might not have ever thought about. I would say it made a difference,” said Caroline Roberts, a junior and research assistant on the project, and Gamma Chi Delta member.
According to Kilpela, who was a research assistant to the project as an undergraduate at Trinity and a sorority member, the program helps make the sororities more cohesive. The program and study operate in such a way that different sororities have to interact with one another.
“They said we like coming together as a mixed group. I have definitely seen a change that the sororities started working together in a different way. It meant they were exposed to members of other clubs when they were still in an explicit sorority context,” Becker said.